This film is held by the BFI (ID: 19378).


The industrial development of West Africa (probably Gold Coast and Nigeria) under British rule.

West Africa before it was developed; forests (28-43); swamps (45-52); deserts (55-60). Men crossing a river by a tree branch (66-78). Two West Africans sitting outside their hut (83-91); a woman cooking (100-109); two men pounding in a tub (119). Development under British rule; a European surveying (125-138); a European supervising West Africans laying railway tracks (150-208); street scenes (219-281); men pushing loaded trucks along a small railway (290-306). starting new industries, first cocoa growing (314-325); processing rubber (328-353); timber growing (362-386); developing tin mines (392-421); the old method of shipping produce to ships by surf boats (428-438); the modern harbour of Takoradi (445-464); natives carrying asacks of cocoa on their heads (481-488); sorting and packing the cocoa (500); a store of sacks of nuts for margarine (504-510); sorting raw cotton (515-534); at the tin mines using British machinery (522-571); bridge building with British cement (581-618); a railway using British sleepers, lines and rolling stock (629-650). Scenes in a British factory making machinery for use in West Africa (660-691). Street scene showing motor car traffic in West Africa now that the roads are good (701-722). Scene in a British car factory making cars for West Africa (732-749). A ship loading at the docks (761-782); a group of British workers (791-818); a small boy on a beach in West Africa (832-843) (859ft).

Note: Footage from this film can also be found in THE OIL PALM OF NIGERIA (1927), BLAZING THE TRAIL (1927) and the unedited footage in NIGERIA (c.1928). The shots of the surf boats and Takoradi harbour are from GOLD COAST COLONY: TAKORADI HARBOUR AND RAILWAY TERMINUS 1921-1928 (1928).



In 1927 British Instructional Films (BIF) wrote to the Colonial Office asking for the exclusive right to be ‘commissioned by Colonial Governments to make cinematograph pictures of an educational character demonstrating local resources and development’ (CO 323/985/23). BIF had earlier worked with the Crown Agents in producing ‘The Empire Series’, three sets each of up to 12 films based, in part, on material shown at the Empire Exhibition of 1924-25. It had also received commissions from the Admiralty (for example Britain’s Birthright, 1924), and had worked with Colonial governments overseas (for example with the Nigerian Government in the production of Palaver, 1926). While the company was widely praised for its productions, which the Imperial Institute said were ‘in every way superior from those obtained from other sources’, the Crown Agents were reluctant to grant exclusive rights (CO 323/985/23). Nevertheless, during 1927 BIF was commissioned by the Cypriot Government, by commercial companies (making a film for Cadbury, showing the company’s activities in West Africa) and, most notably, by the Gold Coast Government, for whom it made the official film of the construction and opening of Takoradi Harbour (The Times, 26 April 1928, 24).

The Opening of Takoradi Harbour and the other films BIF produced for Colonial governments were intended primarily as publicity for the colonies, in particular to attract trade and investment. West Africa Calling, while using footage featured within The Opening of Takoradi Harbour and within many of the West African pictures from The Empire Series, served a different ideological purpose. Commissioned by the Conservative Party in Britain, the film was intended for British workers (rather than businesses and investors) and was aligned to domestic economic and imperial policies. In particular, it promoted the Conservative Party’s proposed system of ‘imperial preference’, seeking to convince British workers (and voters) that the party’s protectionist policies would benefit them by creating more jobs. This was no easy task, as it was widely believed that tariffs would help businesses more than consumers, who would be susceptible to an increase in the cost of their daily foodstuffs. The Conservatives had lost the election of 1923 while campaigning for tariffs, and won a year later only after dropping the issue from their manifesto.

The Conservative Party’s economic policy marked a shift from the free trade liberalism that had dominated British economic policy since the middle of the 19th century. In a post-war climate of economic depression and rival imperial powers, many Conservatives (with the notable exception of Churchill) now proposed increased government intervention, in the form of protectionist tariffs on imported materials. These tariffs would be lowered or withdrawn for countries within the Empire. The policy indicated the strengthening of a political and economic imperial bloc, which was further consolidated with the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the formal establishment of the Commonwealth of Nations (Grieveson, 2011). 

The Conservatives argued that these protectionist policies would benefit British industry, protecting it from emerging industrial nations and creating an active market in which it could trade. In particular, the Conservatives argued that colonial development and ‘imperial preference’ would create more jobs for workers in Britain, as the party sought to counter the political radicalism of worker unrest, most clearly manifested in the General Strike of 1926. The policy was strongly championed by the Secretary of States for the Colonies, Leo Amery who argued that, in creating employment, tariffs would detach ‘the working people in this country from the anti-imperialist leaders of Socialism’ (Grieveson, 2011).

West Africa Calling was one of a number of films produced for the Conservative Party that promoted imperial trade (see for example Empire Trade, 1934). The Conservatives were the first political party in Britain to recognise the potential of film as propaganda, establishing a film department within its Central Office in 1925 and commissioning its own films from 1926. Joseph Ball, the Party’s chief publicity officer between 1927 and 1929, was particularly keen on using film to reach the ‘unconverted working classes, a section of the populace which no traditional method of publicity appeared effectively to reach’ (Hollins, 1981, 361). As commercial cinemas opposed the exhibition of political films, the party established a network of cinema vans with which it presented its films to the public. Historian Timothy Hollins argued that the daylight cinema vans helped to draw a large audience (of over a thousand in towns and cities in the early tours) encompassing various political backgrounds. This audience would watch half an hour of film and then listen to lengthy speeches and question and answer sessions, often from a local MP or candidate. The films, playing regularly and widely across the country, thus served not simply to ‘propagandise in their own right, but also to act as a crowd-puller’, to attract a disparate audience to political meetings (Hollins, 1981, 362).

By 1930 there were 12 outdoor vans and 12 vans carrying portable equipment for indoor use (Hollins, 1981, 363). In the 1931 election season, the cinema vans visited 79 towns and during the 1935 election, played to an estimated audience of 1.5 million (Grieveson, 2011). 



Even though West Africa Calling used footage from concurrent British Instructional Films, such as Blazing the Trail, it re-contextualises this footage in intriguing ways. In doing this, primarily through its intertitles, it propagates the Conservative Party’s imperial policies to a British working-class audience.

In many respects the film follows a rhetoric of British development, which is broadly familiar both from other BIF films and from imperial shorts of the inter-war period. Opening intertitles state that ‘Years ago West Africa was an unexplored country of forest… swamps… and desert… the Natives lived in primitive huts… British enterprise has changed all this’. The film suggests that this has benefited the local population in a number of ways – ‘The British government has set up native schools…. Hospitals have been erected’ – and constantly reiterates the ways in which British expertise, machinery and finance have developed the country (‘with the help of British machinery’, ‘British engineers are developing the tin mines’).

Yet, crucially West Africa Calling explicitly links this development to British workers at home, explaining how it will benefit them. ‘Employment has come to the workers in our factories at home’, the commentary states, ‘through the building of harbours, roads and railways’. While other British Instructional productions displayed and celebrated British development within West Africa, encouraging investment and emigration, West Africa Calling directly outlines the benefits of colonial development to the British factory worker. ‘The work of developing the colonies brings increased employment to British workshops’, an intertitle explains, before showing the work of ‘British machinery’, ‘British cement’ and ‘British steel sleepers and lines’ in this industrial development. The film shows workers within British factories – ‘This means increased employment in our iron and steel and engineering industries’, ‘the demand for British motor cars means employment in our motor industry’ – promoting imperial partnership by aligning British factory work with colonial development. A further title states that ‘Our exports to our West African colonies alone mounted in 1927 to 20 million pounds sterling … that meant employment for 77 thousand men at £3 per week’. Inevitably, the film fails to consider the cost of such development within the colonies themselves.

At the film’s conclusion a title explains that ‘This example from West Africa shows how workers at home benefit by the policy of developing the Empire’. During the 1920s, the Gold Coast was often presented as a ‘model colony’ and used as a validation and example of British development programmes. In particular here, West Africa Calling highlights the development of transportation links (railways, roads, motor cars and finally Takoradi Harbour) which served, the film suggests, to circulate ‘our food stuffs and raw materials’ to Britain. As Lee Grieveson argues, in presenting a narrative of progress and modernity, the film visualises the circulation of materials throughout the Empire, championing an ‘idealised political economy’, in which capital and materials flow freely throughout the Empire (Grieveson, 2011).

Tom Rice (February 2010)


Works Cited

Grieveson, Lee, ‘The Cinema and the (Common) wealth of Nations’, forthcoming in Lee Grieveson and Colin MacCabe eds., Film and the Empire (London: British Film Institute, 2011).

Hollins, Timothy J., ‘The Conservative Party and Film Propaganda Between the Wars’, English Historical Review (1981), 359-369.

‘Encouragement in Production of British Films’, accessed at the National Archives (CO 323/985/23).

‘Letter from Crown Agents to the Under Secretary of State, Colonial Office’, dated 11 July 1927, accessed at the National Archives (CO 323/985/23).

‘British Instructional Films’, The Times, 26 April 1928, 24.

Williamson, Philip, National Crisis and National Government: British Politics, the Economy and Empire, 1926-1932 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
859 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
WOOLFE, H. Bruce
Conservative and Unionist Central Office
Production Company
British Instructional Films





Production Organisations